A key environmental measure in the Murray-Darling Basin plan “cannot be achieved in the current program settings” that could only save 13% of the 450 gigaliters needed to protect river ecosystems, a highly anticipated report found.
The plan promises 450 GL to the environment, to save wetlands and avoid species loss, by 2024. The Commonwealth funds that 450 GL through the Special Water Account for the Environment (WESA).
So far, only 2.6 GL has been delivered, and very little of the fund’s $ 1.775 billion has been spent, although more water has been contracted since the report was finalized.
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The latest WESA report was delivered to the former government late last year and released Tuesday by the current government. Its findings prompted renewed calls for voluntary water repurchases, which could provide water quickly but would require legislation.
The report team found that target 450GL could not be met under the current program which focuses on off-farm efficiency projects, which have been described as costly and ineffective.
According to the report, the projects could deliver up to 60 GL by the deadline. An analysis by outside consultants suggested that if other efficiency measures were allowed, the cost would be between $ 3.4 billion and $ 10.8 billion.
The water minister, Tanya Plibersek, accused the former government of “deliberately hoping to leave [the WESA money] not spent “.
“This is another report that was kept secret by the previous government,” he said.
“The previous government had no intention of carrying out the Murray-Darling Basin plan – it simply did not have the courage to admit it before the election.
“Their failure to carry out the plan was not due to lack of money, but to lack of will.”
The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is the product of years of negotiations following the devastating drought of the millennium. It has often been framed as a battle between water for the environment and water for sprinklers.
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It has also divided Australia along state lines, with South Australia at the forefront of calling for the 450GL to ensure environmental flows through the salt pools and wetlands of Lower Murray, while upstream states have said reserving l water would harm farming communities on the river system.
Until Monday, Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie said the 450GL target was “out of the question.” “We have given enough,” she added.
Shadow Water Minister, Nationals Senator Perrin Davey, said only 62GL was needed.
Greens spokesperson for environment and water Sarah Hanson-Young said urgent action is needed and that Plibersek should “go buy water”.
“Anything less than the 450GL is unacceptable,” he said.
“The water repurchases must be restored immediately. Raising the white flag means surrendering to the large company sprinklers ”.
Related: State of the Environment: A shocking report shows how Australia’s land and wildlife are being destroyed
The federal government suggested being open to the idea of buybacks, which were limited and then effectively terminated under the previous government in favor of efficiency projects.
The funding for WESA expires on June 30, 2024.
“It is clear from this report that the Nationals were simply running out of time on this money,” Plibersek said.
“They deliberately hoped not to spend. In fact, the report shows that in current policy settings, there is virtually no way that the money can be spent in the remaining time frame. “
After a first report from WESA in 2020, former water minister Keith Pitt ordered the second overhaul.
Dr David Adamson, a senior lecturer at the University of Adelaide School of Economics and Public Policy, said the report “comes as no surprise.”
Adamson said the “zombie” strategy of using water efficiency measures to generate water savings was still being adopted despite evidence that money was better spent elsewhere.
“The continuing failure to understand how water is returned to the environment benefits all of society, including sprinklers both now and in the future, is a tragedy,” he said.